Alabama's coach Nick Saban was cleared for Saturday night's showdown against Georgia No. 3 after his third consecutive negative test for COVID-19, the school said.
Sources told ESPN that Saban was informed that he had been cleared to return shortly before 12:30 p.m. ET, and he immediately left his house with a state trooper to go straight to the team hotel and was able to attend meetings before 1 p.m. ET.
Alabama team doctor, Dr. Jimmy Robinson said in a statement that Saban had negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on Thursday, Friday and Saturday after an initial positive test at 7 a.m. on Wednesday. The school added two additional PCR tests starting Thursday and Friday, which were removed "out of caution" and found negative in a separate laboratory.
"Due to the fact that Coach Saban has remained completely symptom-free and has performed five negative PCR tests that are split between two separate laboratories, the first test will be classified as false positive as of Wednesday under the SEC protocols," said Robinson. "… In accordance with the protocol of the SEC Task Force" Return to Activity and Medical Guidance "and with the approval of the University of Alabama System Health and Safety Task Force, Coach Saban is medically approved to be safe effective immediately Activity to return. "
The Saturday morning test was flown to an SEC-approved laboratory in Mobile, Alabama, for a quick turnaround.
Robinson said in his statement that university officials were in constant communication with the conference office throughout the process to ensure compliance with all applicable protocols.
Alabama announced on Wednesday that Saban, who will turn 69 later this month, tested positive for COVID-19. He immediately left the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility and began self-isolating at home.
However, SEC guidelines state that if a person performs three consecutive negative PCR tests by an SEC-appointed laboratory 24 hours apart and remains asymptomatic, the first test will be considered false positive and the person out of isolation released and medically cleared can return to exercise.
On Friday, Alabama said Saban's first positive test result came from an outside lab the university used to supplement tests required by the SEC.
A source close to Saban told ESPN that from the start he felt the first test was false positive because he never had symptoms or had a fever.
"He didn't even have a cold," said the source.
Saban was out of the football complex for the second half of the week, but he did team and staff meetings via Zoom and watched the exercises on a live feed from home – with a high-angle camera view – and communicated with coaches on cell phone when he did wanted to repeat part of the exercise.
A staff member told ESPN that Saban may not have been there physically, but that he was definitely there mentally and didn't miss anything from home.
"You didn't see him out there, but it's almost like he never left," said the clerk.
Saban showed up from home at ESPN College GameDay on Saturday morning, admitting that he felt a little aloof this week but that he was virtually using the for everything they did in both the exercises and meetings Team and employees stayed in touch.
"Even though I'm not there, the presence was the same," said Saban.
Sources told ESPN that Alabama had no positive tests among its players in this final round of testing and expects the Bulldogs' visit to Bryant Denny Stadium to be in full force.
Saban told GameDay that Alabama took 240 tests in the past two days and they all came back negative. Saban said he took a negative test on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before testing positive on Wednesday.
"I have to trust the doctors and medical professionals who make these protocols safe for us all," said Saban. "Our players did a good job practicing social distancing and that experience made me respect what we should be doing … and we will continue to do so in the future."